Bolivia - La Paz and the Salt Flats by Baz
We arrived in La Paz (the capital of Bolivia) on Monday.La Paz sits at the bottom of a valley and it's a massive city (around 2.5 million people).It is an impressive site to come over the rim of the valley and see the city in all its glory.It looks like a big dirty monster and its appearance is confirmed the closer you get.The pollution takes your breath away, the drivers are aggressive, everyone is in a hurry, its loud and hectic - I really loved it.Seonaid wasn't so impressed.
We checked into our hostel and although its colonial building was very grant looking the room itself was very cold, even during the day.We went out for a drink that night and when we got back to the room we realized it was going to be a very unpleasant place to sleep, as the temperature drops well below freezing at night.We made the best of it by rapping up well, but it was a bit of a nightmare and the next day we paid up and left.Up until now we have been very tight on our spending, but after the experience the night before we thought a treat was called for, so we checked into a hotel.The price was modest by our standards back home but probably at the top end of the market for backpackers.I believe the term for us now is "Champagne Backpackers".
We spent 4 nights in La Paz and there were a couple of highlights for me.First was the shopping.You can buy everything from Llama fetises to musical instruments and beautiful clothing - and its all dead cheap.I had been toying with the idea of buying a guitar since we stayed at our first hostel in Lima and there were a few guys from Finland who played every day.I spent most of the week walking round the music shops asking "how much?" and trying the guitars but not buying anything - Im sure the owners were sick of the site of me.Eventually on the last day I ventured into a shop and tried a guitar that I just loved.After some quick negotiation with the owner I bought the guitar.After all my uncertainty Seonaid was delighted that I had made the purchase after all.She asked me how much I got it for and although I knew she wouldn't mind I felt a Rooney urge not to tell her the price.I fought the instinct to respond with a grin "it's a very good guitar, and was very reasonable" and instead told her the price.
Another highlight of La Paz was a chance meeting with a local man who called himself Charles of the Fountain.It was on the day we were leaving and we were killing time in the main square just sitting chatting when an old man approached.He seemed to be looking for somewhere to sit and there were no free seats so Seonaid and I shifted over and invited him to sit beside us.He asked us where we were from and where we had been on our travels etc.He was 76 and had lived in La Paz all his life, although most of his family had moved away.He said he would probably die soon, and I told him to stop feeling sorry for himself, that my granny in Ireland is 90 and still drives - he was impressed.
We had a great conversation with him about what its like to live in La Paz. I asked about the many protests that they seem to have and the heavy army presence around them.He told us that many of the protests are organized by the opposition to the Government which is heavily backed by the USA.The current President has been in power for 2 years and according to Charles is very much a man of the people.It was a great insight and is we had not have been leaving I would have offered to take him for a pint (or a pisco) and continued the conversation.In the end he bid us good day and went on his way.Seonaid and I both agreed it was a lovely exchange.
We then got the overnight bus to Unyui which is close to the Salt Flats.We had heard that the Salt Flats are a highlight of South America, but we didn't hear how unbearable to bus is on the way to them.We left La Paz at 9.00pm and arrived at 7.00 am.We didn't travel on a road, but to the best of my knowledge a bumpy path.At around 3.00 am the glass on the bus froze over, both inside and out and it was all but impossible to get any sleep.I braved the toilet on the bus once and with all the bumps on the road I could only laugh as I attempted in vein to hit the toilet.
The next day we arranged a trip to the Salt Flats and they certainly were impressive.Absolutely spectacular!It's a desert of salt that I believe was once an Ocean.We went with a family from Argentina and an American girl called Alison.Both were excellent travel companions and we had a lovely day exploring the flats and I think we got some very nice fotos.I intend to contact the Argentine family before we visit Buenos Aires as they gave us some great advice on what to visit and may be able to arrange tickets for a Bocca Juniors game.
We head on to Argentina tonight (by train this time as I have no more dry trousers for the bus).We go to a place called Salta which I believe is great for all sorts of adventure activities, but as Im getting a bit too old for all that I might just sit back and sip a beer while playing my new guitar.Nice!!!